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Perfection of consecrated life is not in austerities but purely in Love of God

4 min • Digitized on March 13, 2022

#Consecration #Doctrine #Spiritual Directors

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 221
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley


Our Blessed Father was speaking to me one day on the subject of exterior perfection, and on the discontent expressed by certain Religious, who, in their particular order, had not found the strictness and severity of rule they desired. He said:

These good people seem to me to be knocking their heads against a stone wall. Christian perfection does not consist in eating fish, wearing serge, sleeping on straw, stripping oneself of one’s possessions, keeping strict vigils, and such like austerities. For, were this so, pagans would be the more perfect than christians, since many of them voluntarily sleep on the bare ground, do not eat a morsel of meat throughout the whole year, are ragged, naked, shivering, living for the most part only on bread and water, and on that bread of suffering, too, which is far harder and heavier than the blackest of crusts.

If perfection consisted in exterior observances such as these, they would have to go back in perfection were they to enter even the most strictly reformed of our Religious Houses, for in none is a life led nearly so austere as theirs.

The question then is in what does the essential perfection of a christian life consist? It must surely in the first place include the assiduous practice of charity, for exterior mortifications without charity are of no account. St. Paul, we know, reckons martyrdom itself as nothing, unless quickened by charity.

I do not exactly know what standard of perfection they who insist so much upon exterior mortification wish to set up.

Surely the greater or lesser degree of charity is the true measure of sanctity and the measure also of the excellence of religious rule. Now, in what rule is charity, the queen of the virtues, more recommended than in that of St. Augustine? which seems to be nothing but one long discourse on charity.

However, it is not a question of comparing one rule with another, it is rather of noticing which rule is as a matter of fact best observed. For even had other rules, in regard to the exterior perfectness of the life they prescribe, every advantage over that of St. Augustine, who does not know that it is safer to enter a community in which a rule of less excellence is exactly observed, rather than another where a higher kind of rule is preached but not kept? Of what use are laws if they are not observed?

The consequence, in my opinion, of the mistake made by those who put over-much stress on esteem of mortification, is, that even Religious get accustomed to make use in their judgments of those lying balances of which the Psalmist speaks, [Psalm lxi. 10.] and that the simple-minded are forced to trust to the guidance of blind leaders. Hence it has come to pass that true and essential perfection is not what the majority of people think it to be, nor is it reached by the road along which the many travel. May God have pity on us, and bless us with the light of His countenance, so that we may know His way upon the earth, and may declare His salvation to all nations, and may He turn aside from us in this our day, that which He once threatened to those who thought themselves wise: Let them alone, they are blind leaders of the blind. [Matt. xv. 14.]

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